Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893
July 28, 2004
Letters to the Editor
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20071
I pray for the future of the Chesapeake Bay, particularly if the logic advanced in the July 28, 2004 Washington Post editorial (“The Basin and the Bay”) is used as a basis for policy development on the East Coast. The black or white philosophy driven in that editorial – “either the farmers move away, or the fish die” –, based on inaccurate assumptions derived from the Klamath River Basin in Oregon and California, reveals a complete acceptance of the myth-driven arguments promoted by extreme environmental activist organizations. In short, virtually every single sentence in the editorial about Klamath is, objectively speaking, wrong.
First, drought did not lead farmers in the Klamath River Basin to divert water to their fields in 2002. That year, as in 96 of the past 97 years, Klamath Project irrigators did what they have always done with a water supply originally created for that purpose: they irrigated their lands.
The Post then concludes “tens of thousands of coho salmon and other endangered fish died as a result.” Again – wrong. A federal judge in 2003 found that conflicting facts about the fish die-off prevented her from reaching the conclusion reached by your editorial board. Further, a report prepared by the National Research Council (NRC) found no link between Klamath Project operations and the fish die-off, located over 200 miles downstream.
The editorial states that, in 2003, a federal court ruled that river water could no longer be diverted, since doing so violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This, too, is simply incorrect. The court actually directed that a few, specific modifications be made to government documents to address the judge’s concerns. This judgment in no way altered recommended flows for the Klamath River or deliveries to irrigators. Thus, the Post’s interrelated conclusion that, in 2004, “mass bankruptcy” to farmers has occurred – is a flat out misrepresentation.
The Post’s facile observation: either the farmers move away, or the fish die, is a gross oversimplification of an incredibly challenging situation, where a multitude of stressors to fish, including over fishing in the past and predation by other fish, all contributed to the current state of fish populations.
Finally, the Post’s interpretation of proposed ESA legislation as “tilting the process in favor of farmers” ignores the fundamental reality and injustice faced by Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers in 2001. That year, fishery agencies imposed such high environmental requirements for fish that irrigation supplies to the community were curtailed for the first time in 95 years. This, despite the fact that the local community provided those agencies with scientific information that questioned the legitimacy of those requirements. The NRC later concluded that the 2001 decision to curtail irrigation supplies was not justified. Had the peer review standards like those proposed in Rep. Walden’s legislation been in place at the time, the resulting $200 million impact to our rural community might have been avoided.
We have little knowledge about what is happening in Chesapeake Bay, located thousands of miles away from our Basin. It would appear that the Post editorial board similarly is in the dark about Klamath water issues. Making broad and misinformed comparisons of the two regions in public forums is not going to lead to meaningful solutions in either area.
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